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Sitting in The Teal Chair

Eagle High School students ask the big questions in must-see documentary

Henry Coffey Aug 29, 2018 4:01 AM

If you knew you had limited time, what would you do?

That is the question posed in The Teal Chair, a film produced by students at Eagle High School that has received widespread acclaim and will be screened at The Flicks in Boise on Thursday, Sept. 6, at 5 p.m.

The Teal Chair Director Kimberly Ouwehand, the community relations director at Treasure Valley Hospice, was the genesis of the idea. After eight years in the hospice industry, she wanted to start a conversation that people often avoid: What do we do when our time is nearly up?

"We're so scared to talk about it in America," she said.

Ouwehand didn't have any filmmaking experience, so she reached out to Andrew Favor, who teaches Broadcasting and Video Technology at Eagle High School. It was an unconventional choice, but Ouwehand wanted to create an unconventional film.

"I kind of didn't want it to be professional. I didn't want it to look staged. I just wanted a raw emotional reaction," she said.

Favor put Ouwehand in contact with five students who had been in his documentary class the year prior: seniors Declan Tomlinson, Dylan Marusich, Aiden Holcroft and Henry Hanson; and junior Alexa Adams, who made room in their schedules to produce the film.

The original version of The Teal Chair was shot in November 2017 during a Dia de Muertos event at Jack's Urban Meeting Place. Students placed the eponymous chair in JUMP's professional film studio and recorded people from ages 8 to 102 talking about living and dying. Ouwehand scheduled and conducted the interviews, but the rest of the production was up to the students, from cinematography to editing and sound.

Why the teal chair?

"Our company's color is teal, and I wanted it to represent the company. And everybody looks good in teal," Ouwehand said with a chuckle.

The 10-minute documentary the group produced was featured at the Sun Valley Film Festival Future Filmmakers Forum in March of this year. Surprised by the acclaim the film received and the enthusiasm it generated, Ouwehand and the students conducted more interviews and produced a 30-minute version of the film. More than 500 people showed up for its premier at JUMP in April.

"I honestly wasn't expecting the film to be that big. I thought it would be just another school movie we made that would be buried in a flash drive somewhere," said Tomlinson, who also composed music for the film. "When we got into the Sun Valley Film Festival I was so honored, and when we had the JUMP showing I was literally awed by the experience. It really felt like we were part of something bigger than what we made."

The Teal Chair has garnered attention from media outlets, podcasts and several national health organizations, but the most intense interest has come from healthcare professionals who believe the film has tremendous educational potential. It may even be integrated into courses at some medical schools.

"Five students are basically making a difference in medical professionals' lives," said Ouwehand.

Treasure Valley Hospice hopes to release The Teal Chair online and on DVD later this year. The imminent release is good news for audiences who have already caught a screening, as many can't seem to stop talking about it.

"Almost everybody said they had conversations with their families, with their kids, their spouses, their parents," said Ouwehand, adding she's excited to see the film inspiring people the way she hoped it would.

The questions raised in The Teal Chair are fascinating, but it's the students who delved into them that gave the project its unique momentum. Tomlinson said it was an experience he won't soon forget.

"The film made me realize to take advantage of our days and to build relationships early," he said. "Relationships are what make humans unique and we need to recognize that."

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